Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review of David Rokeby’s Installation, Taken at Williams College By Luke Jaeger

Williams College Museum of Art/Williamstown, MA
The fertile territory at the intersection of art and surveillance is hot real estate these days. David Rokeby stakes his claim with Taken, an installation at Williams College.
Three screens occupy the gallery's walls. The first, a ten-foot-by-ten-foot grid, alternates projections of previous visitors' faces with close-up surveillance shots of current visitors', each labeled with an adjective such as "resigned," "reassured," "unthreatened." Rokeby's miraculous custom software picks out a visitor's face and follows it around the room-a white square appears on the screen tracking its progress - and though one's rational mind knows these adjectives are assigned at ran­ David Rokeby, Taken, installation. Courtesy dom, a moment of panic ensues: If contemporary surveillance technology can recognize your face, can it also tell how you feel?
On a second screen, visitors' images scroll continuously upward through a flux of shifting gray shapes. Movement is detected by a camera and mapped into this stream. When standing still, one's image disappears -a discovery that is at once liberating and terrifying. Is a Unabomber-like retreat into isolation and nonexistence the only alternative to having every movement monitored?
The third screen gives a hint of an escape route. Here one can see one's own image overlaid, like a photographic exposure, with those of everyone else who has walked through the gallery. Alone in the space, the visitor shares the virtual space on the screen with the specters of previous visitors who mill about in a dense, semitransparent jumble of bodies. Your first instinct is to wave your arms or jump around in order to pick your own image out of the crowd-but that's what all the previous visitors did, too.
A roomful of ghosts waving their arms, silently clamoring for recognition before the automated eye of the surveillance apparatus: a metaphor of the artist's role in a paranoid and security-obsessed society.

Chicago Style Citation

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